Latch E1

Chris Barr hates going through the Constabulary checkpoints. He gets chattier than usual, an energy I’ve observed to be a mix of bravado and self-doubt; an exaggerated display of banter and self-deprecating endearment, wishing the baton boys to acknowledge that he earned his place on Empezar A14.

 

Hey, look at me, I’m just as important to humanity’s salvation as you guys!

 

Howdy doody, I’m off to make a positive contribution to whatever’s left of society today too!

 

We’ve been friends long enough for me to know that he hates it when he goes on overdrive just to prove himself to meatheads.

 

The forced banter met with awkward, judging faces and weak responses.

 

The bro-fists behind our backs after a veiled, cutting remark sent our way.

 

Ginger-top

 

Fleck-eater

 

Tinker toy

 

The human tic

 

The world was never kind to Chris and I. Not even after the augs. Not even after the world died. Probably why it was easier to shed off the parts that we were born with.

 

Chris is a chemical analytics laboratory made flesh, All that data-gathering hardware crammed into his thorax and skull came at the expense of human sensations that we’ve been used to for millennia, like smell and taste. Oh, he can still do those things, but Chris’ smell is now more of him knowing what individual particles make up a scent and his taste is about experiencing every chemical in minute detail. This makes his job as a forensic specialist and biochemist easier but I don’t think he could ever go back to smelling and tasting things the way we did for most of human history. When the range of your senses have been expanded to the point that the only way to explain what you were experiencing to a baseline is by pointing to a periodic table, I’m pretty sure that cuts off a lot of dinner table conversation contributions from your end.  

 

I, on the other hand, am on my way to becoming a full blown, walking statistics package. A cognitive computer here, a mnemonic device there for extra short-term memory calculative workspace and limited long-term memory hi-fidelity storage somewhere. I’ve got input jacks for my man-machine interface at the base of my skull, and a small tweak to different parts of my brain to induce a depressive realism state without the ruminations and self-hate that come with an actual depressive condition, that I may already have had to begin with. Can’t have your crunchers sifting through the data in their heads while rose-tinting their predictive models. Can’t have them continually doubting themselves after making conclusions unless you want them to tank their credibility either.

 

I’ve heard of earlier Depressive-realism modded individuals having a higher susceptibility to stressful situations. Current gens like me only get to deal with facial tics and not so significant memory recall degradation. But, that’s what the mnemonic implants are for.

 

Sure, bio-modding, implants, and gene-splicing are starting to become in vogue with the designer babies of the privileged, but the general population isn’t too keen about the whole “our bodies are limited, let’s upgrade, fuck yeah” rhetoric. Thankfully, most of Chris’ and my mods are subdermal. Less of a chance to attract a potential lynch mob when we’re off-duty. But our white vacsuits that mark us as members of the Criminal Data Science Unit, in contrast to the Constabulary’s light blues, only make us visible from farther away. The geek squad’s a-coming.

 

I just want to get off the dock and on the shuttle to Hull 30.

 

“Basil?” Chris is looking at me as if expecting a reaction.

I must have spaced out for a moment during the shuttle transit. I access my mnemonic implant as the shuttle slowly decelerates, rewinding to the last few seconds of the conversation of which I was a mentally absent participant.

 

“–Not if you were the last person on Earth,” Chris from three seconds ago guffaws as he releases his punchline, “Joke’s probably on her. I’ve got a smaller chance of becoming the last person on the planet compared to her basic income ass.”

 

I don’t need to hear how it starts. I minimize the memory window from my HUD as we step off the shuttle pod and into the hallway in front of us.

“Obviously,” I snort. I can’t believe I wasted processing power on this. It’s not that it wasn’t a good story or that I couldn’t relate to the satisfaction of one-upping some dick who didn’t make the cut to be aboard humanity’s space lifeboats. It’s just that the story was getting old. And honestly, it was just plain mean.

 

Chris shakes his head, unconvinced that I appreciate his triumph over prom queen Stacey. My slightly unintended eye-roll must have given it away.

 

“All I’m saying is we hit a gold mine,” Chris exclaims, arms flailing as he continues. “We got oh so gloriously selected to survive for the human race due to our individual brain power, sweat, tears, and a baseline level of fertility, the last of which, I’d like to emphasize, would probably never be put to good use if the world hadn’t gone to shit. But now, our inclination for not getting bored to death by slightly more complex math, and our capacity for holding our lunch while cutting up small amphibians, have been rewarded with humanity’s best genetic stock penned in with us. The paired breeding programs are just icing on the cake.”

 

“I like how you’re looking at the bright side of living in a rotating pipe in vacuum under strict personal living conditions as your ticket to bumping uglies for eternity. This is totally not creepy,” I said.

 

“Actually, Empezars look more like a ring with a pen in the middle. And this,” Chris gestures to his lanky frame, like a sleazy car salesman presenting an unashamed lemon. “This, by primitive gravity well standards, is not a fine specimen that gets the female brain Dee-Tee-Eff. People who would have had no intention of even knowing our names due to having their fill of mega-chads on open bar nights are tres hungry now due to scarcity. And I’m not just talking about breeding partners here. Tres hungry.” He pauses for emphasis, holding up his hands with his fingers touching together like one of those Italian chef stereotypes you could stream on the retro culture channel. “Mucho. The next great existential epoch has happened and we’re just surviving as the newly defined fittest. Thank god for sex drives.”

 

“I’m glad you’re still thinking of it as a numbers game. All is not a hopeless quest for true love and sexual congress for Basil and Chris, once cursed to roam the Earth as evolutionary failures.” The fact that you’ve circumcised your own sensory reality should count for something. I hold back that last thought.

 

“You’re a tough crowd, you know that?“.

 

“Keep trying. It’s either bound to stick or get naturally selected out of your repertoire,” Zing. Basil one, Chris zero. I stop in my tracks to check our location. “Speaking of things that stick, I can’t believe Dick’s making us hoof it all the way to Hull 30 when we could’ve just tele-opped. Wasn’t there a fungal outbreak here a couple of weeks back?”

 

“Yeah, sometime around Founding day. Some idiot brought in a cup of caf and it splattered all over the place when the scheduled rotational calibrations started,” Chris answers. “A year in and people still forget that we’re no longer on solid ground.”

 

“I guess a selection program to repopulate and save humanity with the best and brightest still can’t escape the normal distribution curve.” People make mistakes. Mistakes get people killed out here in space more often though.

 

“There he is,” Chris points out.

 

The arching steel tube hallways of Hull 30 is where the honeycomb sections of waste management and hydroponics meet. No smart paint on the walls for space windows here, people. Strictly business. The only foot traffic at Hull 30 are maintenance workers moving to and from the shuttle station we just left during the start and end of their shifts. No storage areas, nothing. This is the desert of the Empezar. Nothing to do, nothing to see. Just passing through.

 

Further down the hallway on the way to the T-Junction connecting the other sections, a tall blond man in a dark blue Empezar Security Group bodysuit is crouched over someone partially hidden under some of the wall panelings like a mechanic doing repairs. Except, this mechanic doesn’t have any shoes. Or pants.

“What’s up, hoss?” Chris greets the man in blue with all of his native Missouri charm.

Richard Pennington looks up from the pair of legs sticking out from the bulkhead access panel. He’s used to the familiarity. Pennington is one of the few ESG-CDSU liaison officers we actually like working with. The man has a solid background in some sort of field intelligence work for the British government and is a couple of pay grades above the usual cavalier beat cop you’d see on the  Zar A14 Constabulary roster. If the EA14 Constabulary is your local fuzz, the ESG are the Feds. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also our partner-in-crime at ensuring the extinction of whatever’s left of humanity’s alcoholic beverage stockpile from time-to-time.

 

“Glad you made it. I was worried that the Constables just decided you were to blame for this mess.” Being all business was the usual for Pennington, out on the field.

 

He starts going through the history of the corpse behind the wall: Mid-forties, male, around two hundred and thirty pounds at six foot three, ident tracker missing. A bear of a man. I wouldn’t fault Pennington for not being able to move the body on his own. Just from the size of his feet and legs I could tell that the guy was huge. “Maintenance worker from hydroponics was making sure the floor was clear for the next shift when he tripped over these pair of ground huggers,“ he continues as he points toward the feet sticking out from the wall.

 

“–and obviously he has half his head caved in,” Chris cuts in.

“Obviously,” I stretch my arm out to emphasize the 6 inches of steel plating visually separating us from the big dead guy as of the moment. I don’t hold back on the eye roll this time.

“Been telling you to get your own,” Chris taps one of the small metallic protrusions on his temples, one of the emitters for the multi-spectrum mod wired directly to his occipital lobe. “I assume there’s a bigger reason for calling us here than bagging and tagging. I think Cutter’s autopsy team would have been a better choice if all you needed was time and cause of death.”

I bring up my ecto, my subdermally implanted personal computing unit, which spills orange light from my left wrist. The light box frames the bulkhead area that covers the other half of the cadaver. The device syncs to my own optical inlays, providing me with a broader lightband to see through the material at a lower resolution than the one Chris is getting directly fed into his brain. As cheerfully annoying as he is, Chris is right. Nothing in the current crime scene screams hi-tech black hat code monkey, terrorist engineered face melting retroviruses, or psychopathy inducing environmental neural hacks. Just a dead guy with his head bashed in and half his body hid away in an amateurish attempt at disposal. The lack of apparent effort is almost insulting to law enforcement if homicide and murder cases aren’t already as uncommon as they are since Zero Day.

 

“Dick, you know Chris is right. Nothing here screams hi-tech black hat code monkey, terrorist engineered face melting retroviruses, or psychopathy inducing environmental neural hacks.”

“Always thought you were sharper than that,” he says to me, “and less of a git”, he follows up with a finger poking Chris in the chest.

“Hey, just saying that we’d be more than happy to drop by your pad if you needed help finishing those schnapps. You didn’t need to bring out a stiff just to lure us out,” Chris retorts with a shrug.

 

“I need your sniffers for a second opinion,” Pennington says. “And if it makes any difference to you, which it should, his head seems to be more carved out than caved in if you haven’t noticed yet,” Pennington’s not as heavily kitted out with data gathering and processing tech like Chris and I, but his own personal implants are still an impressive mix of forensic packages and attention aids. Whatever made him call us down here had to be juicy.

 

“Great, he’s a turkey then.”

 

Ignoring Chris’ retort, Pennington proceeds to send us a request to sync our cranial comps.  A small window pops up on my HUD.

 

MetaJargoN, RichardESG has invited you to a private channel

Do you accept?

 

A mental nudge opens up the channel into its own little box in my field-of-view.

 

>>MetaJargoN: Aaand what’s up?

GingerBadMan has joined the room

>>GingerBadMan: Sup dawgs?

>>RichardESG: Keep it casual. Whoever’s dumped Stone Cold over here could probably still be hiding in the bushes.

>>GingerBadMan: I never thought of you as a historical wrestling enthusiast, Dick.

>>RichardESG: You always talk about how much action you’ve been getting nowadays that I don’t think you’re processing anything else that doesn’t relate to your reproductive proclivities.

>>MetaJargoN: Dude, you were with us when we did that marathon on highlights from the 20th Cen Beatdowns.

>>GingerBadMan: -.- Honestly, I think I was just chatting up Suvi from the geo-survey group on my inlays the whole time.

>>RichardESG: You just proved my point. Back to the task at hand. I can’t pull security footage on the areas that show how our friend here got to where he is. What surveillance footage we have only shows him travelling alone to a shuttle terminal but no definite destination was confirmed after he boarded.

 

RichardESG has sent a file: SEC_08/03/2075.rf

 

Downloading…

 

>>RichardESG:No footage of him disembarking from either Hydroponics or Waste Management. Somebody’s taken great pains to cover their tracks. The records are obviously modified but I’ll still have to work with the wireheads at ESG local bloc to do some digging for any signs our surveillance hacker left behind. I suggest you also do so on your own time. It’s just funny how after all of that effort, their cover gets blown by two legs sticking out from the walls.

>>MetaJargoN: Or we’re just looking at the handiwork of foot troops who are really bad at their jobs.

>>GingerBadMan: Or from people who actually want us to find this guy.

>>RichardESG: @MetaJargon I do hope it’s as simple as that; @GingerBadMan as crazy as it sounds, from what little we have now, you may be right. Just process the scene. Gather what data you can. I don’t think we’ll have another chance at confirming second guesses.

 

Something’s spooking the spook on our home turf and he’s hiding what he’s found from any prying eyes. A before and after picture of the man’s cranium is suspended before us–Pennington’s facial reconstruction software at work. The face it reveals looks familiar. I run a sub-prog to trawl my mnemonics bank. My inlays pull out a memory I have on the big dead guy.

 

A news feed on the Singh-Yu Investigation Committee being formalized was blaring on the walls of a corridor on my way to the shared living section from the common market deck. His face, along with the rest of the committee members, was plastered on both sides of me as I dragged my feet with the crowd. He had a pudgy face with a shaved head, looking more like a retired boxer than a member of Research and Development. His name crawls along with me on the smart painted walls, willing me to remember it. The memory is old. Around 3 months ago. Foundation Day footage.

 

Marsten Brooks. Definitely a familiar name. I risk a personnel databank query using a rider account. Technically illegal, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. I pull out a bio-history using the last R&D Personnel department admin account to access the file.

 

“This guy’s unmodified. He’s been running on gen ones since the day he was born. The only things probably intelligently designed about him are his vaccinations and his lack of an appendix. No mnemonics package, no hormonal inhibitors, no secondary sensory package, no cognitive computing unit. Hell, not even a gene optimization for lactose intolerance. I’m not even sure he’s got an ecto implant.”

 

Competition to get on board EA14’s R&D team was fierce and most of the researchers were already cog-sensate modified. If Brooks was able to secure a spot on EA14 against people who’ve had self-induced tumors implanted in their heads to promote analysis savantism, multiple personalities cut into their brains for parallel processing and perspective multiplicity, or proto-hive mind research groups timesharing on each other’s mental processes, he either had apex human level natural brain power or his research was just too damn important to leave behind.

 

Chris emits a whistle. “Gutsy, and probably a really important guy. What was he working on?”

 

“Geo-magnetics. Heavily published in his field, tenure as a Research fellow at Kyoto Uni. This guy can speak fluent Japanese and according to his profile loves big bikes,” I send him the news feed memory from 3 months ago, and a picture of the man astride a late-model hybrid Harley in full bike hog regalia. “Project-lead on the Singh-Yu investigation.”

 

>>GingerBadMan: Fuck

 

Chris, now all serious, starts to pace around the room; his head quickly panning to random directions. To the outside observer, he just looks twitchy and unhinged. To anyone else who knows that he’s a walking forensics lab, he’s using his onboard sensory packages to gather a fountain of data. His optics feed his mnemonics package, his olfactory suite taking small chemical samples from the air. Sniffers. Chris takes a sensory and chemical snapshot of the room. Hull 30 could get pulverized by a meteor swarm as soon as we leave the area but we’d still have enough data to get a comprehensive picture of the time we were on scene to reconstruct it digitally. We don’t have the luxury of preserving crime scenes out here in space.

 

“Can you give me a hand with this?” I ask him. He reaches for the cadaver’s left leg. We pull the body from the hole and lay it out on the deck with all its slightly resisting extremities splayed for the rest of our scan.

 

“Is his ecto there? He should have a personal one,” I ask Chris.

 

“Dude, nakeeeed,” Chris quips. Right. Score one all for Basil and Chris.

 

No signs of an implanted unit. Slight scuffing on his wrist. Must have been a wristwatch-type ecto. Chris pulls a couple of vacuum syringes from his utility belt and sticks one of them into the dead man’s thigh, gunning for the femoral vein, and the other right to the heart. The small glass bulbs begin to fill with bits of Brooks’ lifeblood; the vacuum in the syringes allow them to do their work without the aid of a beating heart. Chris proceeds to attach the bulbs to a handheld analyzer as soon as he gathers a sufficient sample size from both syringes.

 

I collect hair samples from different parts of the corpse which I duly place into a field petri dish and hand over to Chris to feed to his handheld. Some things you just don’t stick directly into your body for analysis even with consent. Like some other guy’s blood. Not that poor Marsten Brooks can object at the moment.

 

“He’s as sober as a pilgrim and cleaner than an intensive care unit,” Chris sighs as his eyes glaze over the data scrolling on his optical inlays. “EA14 manifest confirms it’s him.”

 

“Paint me a picture,” Pennington asks us.

 

>>MetaJargoN: Chris, if you please?

>>GingerBadMan: On the way, daddy-o

 

Data floods my optical inlays as Chris starts to transmit to me whatever else was picked up by his sensorium package. My left cheek twitches as my conversion module translates the sensory input into scatter plots and clustered definitions.

 

Time of death was approximately 2 to 3 hours ago. The body has started to cool down but is still quite warm. Blood has started to settle due to livor mortis. Obviously he didn’t get into the bulkhead on his own. Slight rigor mortis has already started to set in. His eyes never had the chance to close. They’re starting to dry out. The rigidity of lower limbs suggest that he was still fresh when he was shoved into the bulkhead panel opening. Now he’s stiff as a board in an upright seated position.

 

The big dead guy is naked. No signs of his discarded clothing anywhere. Would have to schedule a sweep of both the hydroponics and waste-disposal deck with the rest of the Forensics team. No signs of struggle in the area. If he was killed, then it was probably done somewhere else, and the body brought here. Scraping on heels and the back of his legs point to him being dragged.

 

For signs of struggle on the corpse itself, bruises are present on his knees but the lack of peripheral bruising on the rest of his legs could probably point to him not trying to wriggle his way out of his attackers reach. It’s more likely that he was kneeling when he was killed and willingly subjected himself to death. The drug and toxicology screen supports the likelihood that he was conscious during the act itself. Had to be. He had to keep upright without anyone else supporting his weight while his head was being ventilated. No defensive wounds on wrists, back, and sides. No signs that he tried to stop whatever implement was used to crack open his skull and scoop out his brains. No significant bruising on the upper torso that suggested he was braced or was held during the act.

For the main attraction, an open hole in the Parietal Bone Area was definitely what killed him since we’re already clear that Dr. Brooks was in no way drugged or poisoned before Plungy Mcknifestick had his way with him. Something thick and sharp was plunged down from behind him. Weakened bits of the skull were somehow chipped away, probably by the same instrument, to expose the pulp inside. The meat was carved out, the entire cortex all the way to the reachable parts of the brainstem, probably in sections but without any significant damage to the other structural parts of the skull, thankfully sparing us the possibility of dislocated eyeballs. Purposeful. Not passionate. Someone took their sweet time doing this. The guy even had time to probably dispose of the brain matter like toe-nail clippings.

No implements and tools nearby that could be used to crack his skull open and scoop out its contents. The murder weapon would either have been disposed off in the nearby sections, or brought home by the perp. Including that for the scheduled sweep.

No other sign of a visible mortal wound. I share the visual display I’ve compiled to Chris and Pennington’s inlays.

 

>>MetaJargoN: Murder in this area doesn’t fit the current data we have over the past year. Shit, method of execution has no similarities to any case since we left solid ground. This is a first since day 1. Most of the violent crimes we’ve had have been homicides and manslaughter cases from people just popping their tops from  being cooped up inside for so long. I can pull up some potential suspect profiles but the location and methodology are pretty much messing with the current models we have.

>>MetaJargoN: Plus, R&D death profiles are higher on suicide and natural causes. with murder being highly unlikely unless we count that mismatched paired breeding program case that led to a revenge killing over paternal rights by the estranged “not-father”. We could still probably look into the possibility of Mr. Brooks offending someone enough to have him get killed but parts of the current scene just don’t match up.

>>GingerBadMan:  What about assisted suicide?

>>MetaJargoN: With all the trouble to mask the act from surveillance and stashing the body over here at Hull 30? A doctor could’ve given him the prescription and no one would bat an eye. This definitely bleeds premeditated all over it, compounded by the fact that our victim could probably have been a willing instrument to his own death, and we’re not even sure where the actual murder took place.

>>MetaJargoN: We might have to consider the possibility that members of the Singh-Yu Investigation Committee will get roped into a hit list soon enough.

>>RichardESG: I can start moving pieces to make sure the committee has eyes on them while we’re digging deeper.

>>GingerBadMan:  Why’d he get up and go in the first place, though?

>>RichardESG: Good question.  

I see Chris bothered by his own question as he reviews the footage Pennington shared with us of Brooks’ day before he boarded the shuttle and disappeared. We need to piece the puzzle together before we can start following the bread crumbs.

>>MetaJargoN: Erin could probably help.

>>GingerBadMan:  Ah, yes. We can run to the crazy brain lady.

>>MetaJargoN: No more crazier than any of us here.

>>RichardESG: What does Erin do exactly?

>>MetaJargoN: Well, I was thinking she can probably help us ask Mr. Brooks why he left his room in the first place.

The look on Pennington’s face is priceless. He’s trying to keep a straight face but the confusion keeps creeping into his eyebrows. “Well. That seems about right,” Pennington says with a shrug; a gesture that’s more for show for whoever’s watching. If anyone’s watching. “I’ll…go let you do what you do.”

>>RichardESG: And you thought this was a waste of time.

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